Lessons from P-TECH in leveraging sponsors and champions for collaboration success

Each partner has common interests, as well as special and unique interests. The process of building consensus involves trust, a clear focus on common issues and concerns, and a workable and open process of consultation and problem solving. -- Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, IBM Corporation, and President of the IBM International Foundation

blogimage_PTechSponsorChampionTo most of us who follow cross-sector collaboration in the United States, the story of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) is well known. In 2011, Stanley Litow, IBM’s Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation, recognized a growing skills mismatch in the labor market for STEM-driven companies. A collaboration among IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and The City University of New York (CUNY) led to the creation of a new high school to address this skills gap. Its novel grades 9-14 model is designed to graduate students with a no-cost Associates in Applied Science degree and equip students with the qualifications needed to compete for high-growth jobs in information technology.

One of the key factors that contributed to P-TECH’s success was the collaboration’s ability to leverage powerful advocates in its work, echoing a tool The Intersector Project Toolkit refers to as Recruit a Powerful Sponsor or Champion  — the engagement of a person, a group of persons, or an organization committed to leveraging their influence, resources, and skills to assist the collaboration in achieving its objectives.

Sponsors, while not usually involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, provide prestige, access to networks, and convening power. They also can mobilize financial and non-financial resources to support the collaboration. In the case of P-TECH, as Stan mobilized his network, the project generated significant interest across sectors, sparking the attention of then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg announced the initiative in September of 2010, not only bringing national attention to the initiative, but also making its creation a priority.

Champions, who often are involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, typically offer expertise on the issue targeted by the collaboration and/or processes that are critical to the collaboration’s effort. A major step for P-TECH partners was identifying the right school leader – the person on the ground who would have the vision, experience, and determination to develop and implement this groundbreaking school model. During the planning phase of the school, the partners identified Rashid Ferrod Davis to serve as Founding Principal. He would be the champion at the school level who would create the culture for the teachers, students, and parents that would be key to the school – and model’s – success.

As P-TECH illustrates, well-respected, influential individuals or organizations can provide access to resources, lend legitimacy and prestige, and attract public attention. These can often be key in cross-sector collaborations, particularly when consensus building among diverse communities of stakeholders is key to success.